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16 January 2019

What makes a hit musical? The enduring appeal of Miss Saigon

We’re getting close to This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop on Sunday 27th January at The Dance Studio Leeds. As we’ve been busily preparing for this event in the GCF office, there’s been some debate about what makes a musical like Miss Saigon a ‘hit’. Umi thought that the secret lies in memorable tunes that leave you humming for days. Selina came to the conclusion that it was all about the spectacle, the ‘whole shebang’; the best musicals have the ability to transport us to a completely different world. All this begs the question – is the story really that important at all?

The appetite for a night out in the company of an epic musical with memorable, hummable music shows no sign of abating. Back in 2013, when tickets went on sale for the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon, £4.4m of bookings were taken on one day, a West End box office record.

Miss Saigon is an intriguing case. Looking back to when it first premièred at the Theatre Royal in London’s Drury Lane in 1989, it seems daring to have turned the Vietnam war into a song and dance show barely 15 years after the end of hostilities. But in its broader themes – refugees and orphans of war, the morality and consequences of western intervention, forbidden and doomed love – the production has acquired a topicality that has nothing to do with Vietnam. Maybe the intricacies of story aren’t so important to musicals then, as long as it can appeal to universal themes.

Written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr., the production benefits from an enduring collection of music that does what great musicals do: a balance of rousing choral numbers (“Morning of the Dragon”, “This is the Hour”, “Miss Saigon”) and haunting and emotive solo numbers (“American Dream”, “Movie in my Mind”).

Miss Saigon really does have the ‘whole shebang’. Audiences will forever be wowed by the life-size helicopter that miraculously descends from the rafters and appears on stage. The powerful, terrorizing machine is a deafening, airborne apocalypse and the show’s most theatrical moment. We’re left to wonder, just how did they do that?!

West End performer, Nigel Wong, who will be leading our workshop, starred in Miss Saigon at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1995-96. He starred as ‘the commissar’ as well as in the ensemble, and also covered the role of the Engineer. When asked what he thought made Miss Saigon a hit, Nigel said that the story WAS important, and that the vital ingredient was a good connection between the story and the music. He also said that, as a performer, it was crucial that a role could be adapted to the actor; there must be a flexibility to allow both the performer and role to shine through.

What do you think makes a ‘hit’ musical? The debate rages on in the GCF office. In the meantime, why not join Nigel for This is the Hour: A Musical Theatre Workshop. The workshop will give attendees an insight into how a musical comes together, the different genres within musical theatre, and the skills require to be a musical theatre performer.

Please note: this workshop is open to all levels, including complete beginners (16 yrs +).

WORKSHOP DETAILS:

WHEN: Sunday 27th January 2019, 11am – 1.30pm.
WHERE: Dance Studio Leeds, Mabgate Mills, Leeds, LS9 7SW.
COST: £25
Click here to book your place. Presented by the Dance Studio Leeds and Geraldine Connor Foundation.

20 December 2018

Documenting the life of Geraldine Connor

Archive placement student, Millie Clift, is doing a brilliant job digging through Geraldine’s archives here at GCF. We asked her to tell us about what she’s uncovered and how she’s been getting on.

When I first started my placement with the Geraldine Connor Foundation I had no prior knowledge of Geraldine’s career, but I was quickly made aware of her outstanding production, Carnival Messiah. The success which it achieved and the support which she and Carnival Messiah had throughout its time amazed me. I had always known that performance, dance and music had an astonishing impact on people, but it wasn’t until I started reading about Geraldine and her life’s work beyond Carnival Messiah that I realised how much one person could do through the arts to inspire others.

Geraldine Connor © Diane Howse

Carnival Messiah has been described as the pinnacle of Geraldine Connor’s career, and this cannot be denied. However, I am trying to look beyond this production, into all the other amazing work which Geraldine did. What I didn’t realise was how much there would be. From academic brilliance, receiving her PhD from the University of Leeds, to being to first female Steelband arranger for the Panorama competitions; from helping to develop a degree course in Multicultural Music at the City of Leeds College of Music to singing on the original recording of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’; from co-ordinating Yorkshire Black Arts Week in 1994 to becoming a senior lecturer at Bretton Hall, University College of Leeds; not to mention all of her contributions to numerous productions at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and elsewhere, it appears that there is no part of the creative arts which she did not touch.

In order to acknowledge the full range of projects which Geraldine accomplished in her lifetime, I have been visiting several different archives. Particularly, the West Yorkshire Playhouse archive in the Brotherton Special Collections at Leeds University and the George Padmore Institute which is located in Finsbury Park, London. Most of her work on productions is kept within the Brotherton Special Collections, so if you are interested, this is the place to go! The George Padmore Institute is also somewhere which is well worth a visit; founded in 1991 it is a research centre which houses materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe (https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/). It is also connected to the New Beacon Books shop, which has specialised in African and Caribbean Literature since 1966.

Photograph taken from https://www.newbeaconbooks.com/

These archives have told me a lot about Geraldine’s life, but I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there is much more which the Foundation and I can learn. If you have any stories of your time with Geraldine, or information on projects which Geraldine was involved with, I would love to hear from you. Please get in touch at info@gcfoundation.co.uk.

12 November 2018

GCF Scholarship Student wins RSA Award

Congratulations to the wonderful and talented Anna May, who has won the RSA Edward Boyle Prize for her work with the Laidlaw Scholarship. The award recognises how a student has developed on both a professional and personal level.

Anna worked with GCF over a period of two years as part of the Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship (UGRLS). During her time with us, she researched the impact and legacy of Geraldine’s creation ‘Carnival Messiah’, with a particular focus on the production at Harewood House in 2007.

Congratulations again, Anna! All your hard work has been recognised, and we’re so proud of you.

Anna May at the Carnival Messiah the Film premiere, Sept 2017

15 October 2018

Celebrating International Success at GCF

We are delighted that Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary won the People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2018.

Filmmaker Ashley Karrell with the other TT Film Festival Winners

Carnival Messiah, created by Geraldine Connor, was a cultural landmark in both Leeds and the Caribbean. Following its first incarnation as a student production at Wakefield Theatre Royal in 1994, the production empowered a whole generation of performers and entertained thousands of audience members in Leeds in 1999, 2002 and 2007. In 2003 and 2004 the show was performed in Trinidad at Queens Hall. As Express Trinidad reported at the time, “Carnival Messiah is the largest theatrical production, beyond Carnival itself, that Trinidad has ever hosted.”

Carnival Messiah features the work from Trinidad’s own Wayne Berkeley (Set Design), Clary Salandy (Costume Design), Carol La Chapelle (Choreographer), Michael Steel-Eytle (Choral Director), Dudley Nesbit (Steel Band Director) and the performing talents of Ronald Samm (The Voice of Truth), Nigel Wong (Minstrel), Marvin Smith (Lone Disciple), Anne Fridal (Mary), Alyson Brown (Pierrot / Dove of Peace), Christopher Sheppard (Carnival Messiah), Natalie Joseph-Settle (Shango Dancer), Sheldon Blackman (Chantuelle), Jonathan Bishop (Featured Cast), Caroline Neisha Taylor (Featured Cast) and Ella Andall (Mother Earth).

Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary, created and directed by Leeds based film-maker, Ashley Karrell, had two sold out screenings at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in September 2018.

Ashley said: “I’m so proud that Carnival Messiah The Film & Documentary won the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2018 People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary. Thanks go out to all the Trinni’s who came and supported the film. Geraldine Connor would have been so happy that Carnival Messiah came home with more success. Special thanks go out to the Geraldine Connor Foundation, Harewood House and Leeds 2023 for all their support.”

Ashley with Jodi Marie from the TT Film Festival

Congratulations to Ashley and the GCF supporters who flew out to Trinidad for the Festival and spread the word about the work of the Foundation.

12 September 2018

Ultiverse Performance Residency

Calling all students and recent graduates looking to gain experience in a professional arts project…

Visual artist, Akeelah Bertram, is looking for performing arts students and recent graduates to take part in a performance residency next week to help develop her immersive installation, Ultiverse. Akeelah and her team are particularly looking for vocalists who can sing in different languages.

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from professional artists working in a variety of art forms. This residency will take place between 17th-21st September at The Tetley, Leeds.

If you would like to be involved, please email either Akeelah at akeelahbertram@gmail.com or GCF Director, Selina, at selina@gcfoundation.co.uk to find out more, discuss your availability next week. A fee of £30 will paid to you for each session you attend next week.

Ultiverse, Akeelah Bertram

Ultiverse will run at Light Night Leeds 2018 on Friday 5th October, 6-10pm at the Tetley, Leeds. There will also be scheduled performances on the hour from 6–10pm with GCF Creative Associate Artists, Zodwa Nyoni and Akeim Toussaint Buck; composer Aron Kyne and vocalist Thabo Mkwananzi.

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